Karen Lewis and Beverly Woods August 19, 2014... Chicago Teachers Union president has advanced from 'thinking about' to 'seriously considering' a run for Mayor of Chicago

Billed as A Conversation with Karen Lewis in the 19th Ward, the conversational Q & A between Karen Lewis and TV news commentator Walter Jacobson started at approximately 6:30 PM on August 19, 2014 at the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall. The Hall is located at 11532 S. Western Avenue in the heart of the Morgan Park/Beverly community, Chicago's 19th Ward.

TV newsman Walter Jacobson (left) delivered the questions to Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis during the "Conversations with Karen" event at the Beverly Woods in Chicago's 19th Ward on August 19, 2014. CTU photo by Michael Harrington.According to organizers, this Beverly/Morgan Park session was the third of 77 such conversations planned for the neighborhoods of Chicago. The first two were in Logan Square and North Lawndale, according to organizers, but both were almost private affairs. The Beverly Woods event was the first truly public "conversation."

As the overflow audience of approximately 350-400 (union members including: teachers, firefighters, cops, SEIU, city colleges, and others.) got situated, among other songs, the lyrics to Sam Cookes "A Change Gonna Come" were heard...

Its been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gonna come. Oh, yes it will.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Legislative Chair and resident of the 19th Ward, Regina OConnor, made the introductions. TV commentator Walter Jacobson began by mentioning the ward as "politically connected" as well as diverse. Karen Lewis noted her bona fide connections to the 19th Ward as she is a lifelong Chicagoan.

Jacobson asked, When?

Some of the media and some of the audience of more than 300 people who attended the "Conversations with Karen" on August 19, 2014 at the Beverly Woods in Chicago's 19th Ward. CTU photo by Michael Harrington.Lewis said she would decide whether or not to officially announce a campaign for mayor when three things were in place: money, people, and time, meaning her timeline with many political campaigns out there coming in steps. She announced the big news of having filled out the D-1 forms to comply with campaign finance laws in Illinois; she needed to do this due to the money people have already started sending her. Jacobson asked if she could obtain the 12,500 signatures on her nominating petitions needed by the end of November. Lewis said that was exactly what her decision would be based on.

In regard to a question about Mayor Rahm Emanuel already having $8 million, Lewis said that amount was sure to go up, and she could not compete with that. However, most of the money came from people who could not vote here because they did not live here.

Jacobson: He will be on TV 24/7.

Lewis: And what will he say? The people in Chicago know who he is. Nobody is buying his shtick. Lewis added that she did not hate Rahm; she actually had empathy for him.

Jacobson: Do you think he hates you?

Lewis: Probably. [Audience laughter.]

As for anticipated and expected negative advertisements against her, Lewis said that the people of Chicago were not stupid. Alluding to the script of the Hollywood/CNN movie praising Rahm ("Chicagoland"), she said that Chicago voters will not be bamboozled by Rahm's tough choices talk. She mentioned Rahms closing of mental health clinics and the closing of police stations as well as the disbanding of the gang units.

As to what good Rahm has done for Chicago, nothing readily came to mind. Cops, firefighters, CTU members the citys workers were uniformly demoralized.

As for Chicago becoming a world class city, Lewis questioned if he ever asked us if we wanted that? "We are a city of neighborhoods and parishes," she said. "We start from there and build out."

She noted forcefully that Emanuel does not understand Chicago. She told the audience (virtually all of whom were lifelong Chicagoans) that he has put into layers of leadership positions too many who have no institutional knowledge of Chicago, no understanding of how we operate. At the school board alone, Emanuel's Board of Education has been hiring almost all outsiders for executive positions, including most with no teaching experience but with MBA degrees.

She noted that this did not mean they were unqualified, but she said that Emanuel is tone deaf to the very people he needs to appeal to.

To Walters question of who? Lewis reply of for sure CPS looks like that brought out loud applause from the audience.

Adding her famous humor, she noted that at the school system, the sub-district names have been changed, again, since Emanuel took over in May 2011. She referred to consultants who change the names from "Areas" to "Networks to E-I-E-I-O."

She noted forcefully that under Emanuel, there was no ladder in Chicago for Chicago people to move up on, with all those from out of town in the highest executive positions. Two that were cited were Barbara Byrd Bennett, the "Chicago Executive Officer" of Chicago Public Schools, and Gerry McCarthy, the police chief. Byrd Bennett was brought in by Emanuel from Michigan; McCarthy from New Jersey.

When Jacobson asked if she would keep Barbara Byrd Bennett, the room exploded negatively. Lewis reply was simply that a few of the first things she would do as mayor would be to change the title from "CEO" to "General Superintendent" as well as to work for an elected School Board. [Loud audience applause and reaction.]

Donning her teacher smile, Lewis pointed out that Chicago has never had an elected School Board, at one time having a hybrid at best. This was in regard to Jacobson's mentioning that Chicago had once had an elected School Board, and that it did not work out.

As to the Jacobson's questions related to revenue, Karen said that we need to get creative. Right now there were no discussions except about raising property taxes and cutting city services. This was unsustainable as well as representing regression not progress. We should look at taxes for financial transactions as well as possibly commuter taxes such as exist in other cities. Money was a challenge, but we needed to put a lot more people at the table.

In the old days, the city held budget hearings, and it was okay that people yelled but then got down to it. This was stopped almost immediately under Emanuel, who held budget hearings in the summer of 2011 and then ran from them since.

So we now have a budget process that is not participatory nor democracy; it is top-down, autocratic, Lewis said. Decisions were made that she did not think people asked for, but they were the ones who had to live with the consequences of those decisions. For examples: closing mental health clinics, changing library hours, closing 50 schools The people who do the work are the ones to go to for the best solutions.

As in Japan back with their cars when they asked the people in the production line, so the people in this room have the solid answers. Karen noted that she did not strike by herself! Success came from a large base. Time was taken to talk to CTU members. She did not understand why people did not get this it was not rocket science. A command-and-control management style was not even taught for business any more. It stifles innovation. If people live in fear, how can they explore and grow?

Jacobson asked about the red light scandal; what would she do? At a minimum there should be an audit; the more digging down, the more disturbing that gets, and we deserve so much more than all of this.

Jacobson: Would you increase the number of police officers on the streets?

Lewis: Absolutely. Across the city in just a few weeks, she has obtained so much information from talking with cops. There were so many programs that were being implemented that made no sense, yet they were done. She mentioned Officer in a Box in which the police are directed to sit with no arrests, it was about their presence. Well, after a while, isnt someone going to figure that one out?

As for money? Its math. Look at overtime, right there is the money to hire more cops. She recalled what one cop said to her: A camera never came off a pole and arrested anybody. We need to gradually get what we want and increase morale. Selling us technology and we dont need human beings was not working.

Jacobson mentioned and Lewis confirmed that American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten told her at the recent AFT Convention this summer in Los Angeles that she would commit $1 million if Karen decided to run for mayor.

Yes, that helped change the calculus. Economics? The numbers show that trickle-down is not working; wages are stagnant except for the wealth going from the bottom up for the fabulously well-off 0.01%. The stock market and economy is rigged against the little guy. This is only going to change when people stop voting against their own self interests, distracted by promises. We are in a horrible, strange, unstable cycle.

When Lewis mentioned that she got a good education in CPS, the room exploded in applause. Regarding a question of her own previous quote in the media about garbage grids, Karen said she was a quick study. Thats what teachers do. She was a lifelong learner. She apologized to librarians, saying that she did not read novels; she was a policy geek who was presently reading up on housing policy in Chicago. She could read a graph, a spreadsheet. I am not math phobic.

As for questions about the support of her husband, the disruption this is and would be to her family, she said there is understanding and support because this is about building a foundation of a movement. Her husband understood history and would never stand in her way. She mentioned her husbands upcoming birthday as well as their upcoming anniversary. [There was personable and warm audience applause.]

Jacobson began to refer to the audiences questions on pre-filled cards.

-- How was CTU transformed in such a short amount of time? It was not just her; she was surrounded by brilliant people, and contrary to such maligned belief - teachers are educated! We knew also that we needed both research and organizing departments. They fixed a deficit. And they mostly went school by school, from smaller to bigger.

But the Worlds Best Organizer for CTU was Rahm Emanuel. This occurred particularly when he said things like Teachers got raises; kids got the shaft. Statements like that did not connect with parents, the backbones of our neighborhoods.

As to Jacobson's question of whether she would answer the same way to an audience of business elites, Lewis said she would tell them what her father often said: Theres more than one way to skin a cat. In education we call this reflection. [There was audience laughter and clapping with this reference to teacher evaluations in CPS.]

One of the things that was obvious -- and Beverly Woods itself is an example -- is that when Chicago talks about "business" the meanings differ from place to place. While downtown Chicago has become home to more and more Fortune 500 offices (often subsidized by taxpayers) ranging from Boeing to United Airline, most Chicago "businesses" are small and medium sized. To think that "business" people in Chicago are only CEOs of billion dollar corporations is to make another Rahm Emanuel mistake.

In that version of "business" right now, Lewis said, there seemed to be only one way being done over and over, causing more harm than good.

We need to come together and use our strengths. Directly confronting what has been labeled the a'austerity narrative" (insisting that cuts are always necessary because revenues can never be raised), "If we continually focus on deficits, we cannot get out of the hole." We need positive energy to solve problems.

-- Audience question: If elected, what would be your first priority?

To bring together the people who can solve the problems. With laser focus, look at: sustainable and equitable school funding; crime and policing; housing issues; and developing our neighborhoods so people want to live there.

-- Question: What did she think about Rahms solution to close schools, fire teachers, turn schools around, etc.?

Lewis said that we needed to think differently about what academic success was. It was ridiculous how the United States was devoted to test scores. Research showed schools were better with: empowered faculties and engaged parents. We need to see schools as the anchors of our communities. We need to make this happen in ways that did not take the joy out of teaching and learning.

Jacobson asked: How? Lewis said that she could not wave a wand. We need to ask those out in the schools about how things work and what needs to be done.

Jacobson asked: How much are you in love with running for mayor? Lewis remarked that that was a good and serious question. She said she had moved from thinking about it to seriously considering it. She was not a private person anymore. People talk to her a lot, and she feels a lot of love in the city. It is heady stuff when people she respects tell her, You are a consensus builder, and you can do this.

Jacobson: Will you name names? Not gonna happen. [laughter]

Looking through the question cards, Jacobson commented about so many questions from mostly teachers. To a question of public versus privatization, Lewis responded that privatization was the biggest scam ever run on anyone... We end up paying more and not getting the services..." It was support for public services that resulted in needed dollars continually floating through neighborhoods. Money was fungible; it was not stuck in a pot somewhere. We need to bring it back in. Just a mention of the word TIFs brought about audience clapping. Downtown was not blighted. We were constantly in a position of begging big business. When were we going to ask big business to be good citizens, too? We needed to hold everyone accountable, not just the little guy. To businesses she would say, You will not lose. This is addition not subtraction.

When asked about her heroes in politics, Lewis replied that the question was unfair. People do the best they can, but with money so much a part of politics, she just did not see the putting forth of legislation to help everyday people. I dont have political heroes. The hero she thought of? A favorite high school math teacher, now 93, who presently lived in South Dakota. Dorothy taught Lewis to not be afraid of math; math taught life lessons. She smiled, made learning exciting, made her feel smart. Karens heroes were mentors who gave her confidence.

As for race and gender entering a mayoral race? "This is America, Walter..." There are people who believe that women cannot run cities. Someone yelled out a question about her plan for charter schools. She said she did not believe in closing schools; however, there should be studies to see how they were doing. She went into the history of charter schools from their saying give us the toughest kids to charters becoming a means of making money off our kids. The results: charters do no better than traditional public schools. However, closing schools was traumatic. We would do other, alternative things.

Jacobson: Do you think Rahm is afraid of you? [pause] I think Rahm just wants his life to be easy, and Im not trying to make it easy for him.

Question yelled out: Would you open closed schools? Identifying the person who asked the question, Lewis responded that she would see what was best for the children. Coming together, communities would need to decide. The hardest most devastating part about the school closings to her was the pleas going unheard. She could not forget the tone deafness to the pleading and crying.

Jacobson: Will there be a strike in June? Lewis said that she was stunned by the strike that took place. The process for negotiating the next contract was beginning at the same time as the Beverly Woods event: "The CTUs PPC (Professional Problems Committee, which compiles a list of union contract proposals) was meeting tonight. Contract Committees in each school would see what was working, what was not.

Jacobson said that for his media part, he would like to see her run for mayor, for the conversations.

There were closing remarks by CTU Political & Legislative Director, Stacy Davis Gates. She thanked Lewis for the great momentum, Jacobson for the great questions. To the audience: We need continued activism, rank and file organizing work, the registration of new voters. The soul of the city depends on the people. Karen is one very valuable singer, but as a choir we would make her and the city stronger.

The first song following the end of the program was Isnt She Lovely by Steve Wonder.


To get ready for Karen Lewis's big event yesterday in Beverly, I had lunch in Hyde Park with a friend who loves Mayor Rahm and can't stand Karen Lewis.

Cause every Reader writer's got to have at least one friend like that.

He was in rare form, ripping Lewis about this, that, and the other thing. He boldly predicted that when Mayor Rahm's multimillion-dollar campaign machine finished pummeling her, Lewis's lead in the polls would have melted like the polar ice caps under the hot global-warming sun.

For the other side of the story, I drove to the 19th Ward . . .

I took King Drive to 95th and shot west to Western, dodging potholes the whole way.

When I got to the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall at 115th and Western the joint was jumping.

There must have been at least 400 people spilling out of the main banquet room. All kinds of peopleblack, white, firefighters, cops, and teachers. Tons of teachers.

They had a disc jockey spinning Earth, Wind & Fire. By the time they got to Maurice White kalimba solo in Evil, I was ready to start a conga line with a retired special-ed teacher from Brighton Park!

Man, those teachers know how to party.

The night was billed as a "conversation with Karen Lewis." Part of her "listening tour" of Chicago, as she heads from one end of town to the other, listening to gripes about the state of life under Rahm.

It serves three purposes: One, it enables her to practice her campaign pitch. Two, it allows her to sign up hundreds of volunteers. And, threepublicity! The major TV outlets and both downtown dailies were there.

The moderator was the legendary Walter Jacobson, who showed he still had the jab as he peppered Lewis with questions for an hour or so.

He started with the obviouswhen are you going to officially announce your candidacy? And she gave her favorite cat-and-mouse responseI'll announce when I'm ready to announce, and not a moment too soon.

But just to let everyone know, she said she had filed her campaign papers with the state and had received a $1 million commitment from the American Federation of Teachers and would be sending out petition gatherers real soon.

And, of course, she took a shot or two at the mayor. Like this one . . .

"The good news is that the people who contribute to him won't be able to vote cause they don't live here."

Ooh, treated.

"I'm not like Rahm Emanuel," she said at another point. "He thinks the people of Chicago are not very bright. He thinks he can bamboozle them."

Hmm. Considering the mayors we keep electing, I'd have to say I'm with Mayor Rahm on this one.

She also promised to hire more cops, fix the potholes, and think about getting rid of the red-light cameras.

When Walter asked the obvioushow are you going to pay for all of this?she talked about cutting wasteful TIF deals, using money spent on police overtime to hire cops, and looking for new, progressive forms of taxation.

Good luck with that one.

Of course, there's a time-honored alternative from the Mayor Daley playbookjust say the budget's balanced, even if it's not. As Mayor Rahm's sort of doing right now.

In conclusion, Walter said: "I'd love to see you run. The media would like for you to run. 'Cause it's so valuable to the community to debate ideas."

Hear, hear, Walter!

Afterward a few of the hardcore political junkies gathered in the parking lot to smoke cigarettes and talk politics. As always, the good stuff generally happens after the show in the parking lot.

Everyone agreed that Mayor Rahm's strength comes from the millions he can raise to saturate the airwaves with commercials that depict Lewis as the second coming of Che Guevara.

And Lewis's strength? Well, consider this. I very much doubt that Mayor Rahm could fill the Beverly Woods Banquet Hall with 400 or so supporters on a Tuesday night.

Not even with all of his campaign money.

So it comes down to Rahm's money versus Karen's troops.

Walter Jacobson was rightit's time Chicago had itself a real mayoral election.


August 21, 2014 at 8:44 AM

By: Jean Schwab

So interesting

This article was so uplifting and a vision of what could be.

August 22, 2014 at 4:37 PM

By: Jim Vail

Walter Jacobson

Walter Jacobson was the 'reporter' who said the CTU should not elect 'rookies' = CORE. He backed Marilyn Stewart UPC. The corporate media ain't our friends.

August 24, 2014 at 10:46 PM

By: Joan Cerna

ITS REmote

Anyone else having troubling logging on to CPS e-mail? Any tips out there to help me connect?

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